The individual level effect of symbolic representation: An experimental study on teacher-student gender congruence and students’ perceived abilities in math

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Laura Doornkamp
Petra Van den Bekerom
Sandra Groeneveld


Stereotypes, Stereotypical beliefs, Gender congruence, Academic self-concepts, Passive representation, Symbolic representation, Education


Studies on representative bureaucracy have often confirmed the positive performance effects of bureaucracies mirroring the demographic characteristics of their clientele. However, little is known about the underlying individual level mechanisms leading to these outcomes. In this study, theoretical ideas from representative bureaucracy literature and social and educational psychology are combined in a new model that explains effects of passive representation from the perspective of the individual client in the educational field. It is hypothesized that positive effects of gender congruence on students’ academic self-concepts are mediated by gender stereotypical beliefs of students. This mediation is expected to be moderated by the self-confidence of the teacher. Results of a survey experiment among students in a Dutch high school do not support the hypothesized relationships. The study does reveal gender differences in stereotypical beliefs and academic self-concepts though. Furthermore, the academic self-concept for math of both male and female students is higher if the math teacher is a woman. The study concludes with a discussion of the findings and avenues for future research on the role of stereotypical beliefs in the association between gender representation and student performance.